I Am Not Fat, I Am Me

Call me delusional, or call me in denial, but I do not think of myself as fat.

Of course I’m overweight. Of course I wear a dress size that can’t be found in most specialty boutiques or clothing stores. Of course I have folds of flesh that encircle my body – a mid-section that’s hefty, breasts that are heavy, arms that are flabby, hips that are beefy. I have flesh-colored stretch marks that arc across my belly and ripples of cellulite that dimple my thighs and buttocks. I sport a double-chin and chubby cheeks and a body shaped like an apple. When I bend over to pull weeds or work on something at ground-level, I often find it difficult to breathe because my belly pushes up against my breasts, which push against my diaphragm, which cuts off my oxygen intake. Sometimes, my back hurts. Sometimes, the pain is in my feet or my ankles or my hips. I’m not always 100% comfortable, even in my sleep. Although this can be attributed to my weight, it can also be attributed to physical exertion and the slow aging of my body, which is inevitably creeping up on me.

But still, I do not think of myself as fat.

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In my every day life, being overweight is irrelevant. I am an active, involved, fully capable woman who chooses activity over laziness (except for those moments when I’m feeling lazy, and then I indulge in that laziness, because I can, and I have a right to.) I work full-time at a rather demanding job, raise a teenage son, tend to a house and a yard, go to arts and cultural events, find interest in the creative endeavors of others, participate in social gatherings, visit with friends, explore the city where I live and get involved in the community when I can. I also spend quality time nurturing and caring for my interpersonal relationships and showering my partner with lots of love and sex.

Recently, I overheard a woman at work complaining about her personal weight gain and how life has become more difficult and uncomfortable for her, because she can’t find any clothes that fit right in her closet, and drinking a beverage while sitting in a recliner is even a challenge now because her breasts get in the way. In her griping, she said, “I don’t know how Holly does it.” Meaning me.

My immediate unspoken response was: “I just do it.”

No one can call me a couch potato. It’s rare that you’ll even find the television on in my house. Yet strangely, I experience frequent twinges of guilt when I do sit quietly with a notebook or my computer, because I feel that I should be up and about, cleaning, gardening, walking, being productive in a more physical, tangible way. As a result, I don’t write or post blogs often enough, and my creativity suffers. For instance, right now, as I type this, my mind is thinking of a dozen other things I should be attending to – a dozen other things more important than this, which is false.

So, you see, I don’t think of myself as fat. I think of myself as Holly. The woman with a body and a mind that allow her to  accomplish tremendous feats, even in the everyday – planting perennials, visiting galleries, writing poetry, taking walks, cooking meals, indulging in sensual pleasures.

My daily mantra has always been this:

“to live an extraordinary life, even through ordinary circumstances” 

So you see… I don’t have time to think about being fat.

How would I get anything done?

 

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Without Fear of Judgment

It was because I needed a break, some time away from my job and my everyday obligations, that we ended up in Salida, Colorado for the weekend. It was a chance to not only indulge in romantic interludes but also to relax and breathe in the fresh air and remember why I love being in the mountains so much, no matter what time of year.

The weekend getaway also gave me an opportunity to try out my new bathing suit.

After waffles and huevos rancheros on Saturday morning, my boyfriend and I gathered up our swimsuits and beach towels and headed to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs in the small town of Nathrop, just outside of Salida, nestled in the majestic Collegiate Peaks. The weather that day was perfect for early springtime in the Rockies: sunny and warm with only a handful of clouds in the sky. Although the following day we were hit by a springtime blizzard that blinded our path and rattled our nerves the entire treacherous drive home, our one day at the hot springs was perfectly perfect. And exactly what I needed.

The Mt. Princeton Resort offers mspringsultiple soaking opportunities, from man-made mineral pools of varying degrees to a natural creek that flows both hot and cool year-round. A somewhat surprising and pleasing aspect of these hot springs is the absence of sulphuric odor. No stench of rotting eggs that you often smell at bubbling mineral pools, and no trace of chlorine you encounter at regular swimming pools. The only scent in the air was pine resin and a hint of sunscreen. I could not wait to sink my tired body into the warm waters and allow the natural mix of lime, magnesia and potash to soothe and cleanse me. As I anticipated, perfectly perfect.

How disappointing, then, to discover the somber mood in the women’s locker room. Entering the changing area with a bag over my shoulder and a skip in my step, I encountered a scatter of women desperately trying to dress and undress without being noticed by each other. With an open design similar to most locker rooms, this rustic mountain dressing area had benches and mirrors lining the walls, leaving nowhere to hide unless one chose to wrench in and out of clothing in one of the cramped toilet stalls (which some did.) Because of this, every female in the room was forced to undress not only in front of one another but also in front of those imposing mirrors, which kindled feelings of self-doubt and body insecurities so thick, the negative aura hung across the room like a shroud.

No one seemed happy in that dressing room, despite being at one of the most beautiful, relaxing resorts south of Kenosha Pass.

Call me naïve, but I was not aware of how insecure women can become around other women, especially when placed in the vulnerable position of being naked together. Unfair comparisons are made: “She has a flatter tummy.” “She has bigger boobs.” “She has less cellulite on her thighs.” “She has prettier hair.” How sad. There should be more camaraderie. More forgiveness. An irrefutable bond that ties our gender together.

I won’t lie and claim that I don’t also take notice of similarities and differences between body types in such situations; it’s human nature to observe and compare. But I guess I’ve learned over time to appreciate the differences. Every body is completely unique – no two entities are alike – and I embrace that crazy, beautiful aspect of life.

So in that locker room, I removed my clothing and got naked without reserve, without fear of being judged and without placing judgment upon myself. My large breasts wiggled, my fat stomach jiggled and my flabby arms rippled as I clumsily slithered into my new bathing suit. Yes, I saw my own reflection in the mirror, and yes, I noticed the eyes of others looking my way and then averting, but I was not ashamed. I WAS NOT ASHAMED. My new bathing suit has a built-in bra feature that requires clasping in the back, and I must have looked quite a sight trying to make it all work and fit correctly without assistance. If anything was embarrassing, it was that, but I smiled at my own clumsiness and moved on. I also smiled at the other women in the room who looked my way, because nothing helps clear the air of misery better than a shared smile.

And when I exited the locker room and met up with my boyfriend, who had undoubtedly been ready for the last 10-15 minutes, I was met with a wide smile and the words, “Wow, honey, you look amazing.”

We found chairs in the shade to lay our towels upon and dipped our toes into the soaking pool. The temperature of the water that day was 105°. Rather than needing to carefully step in on tiptoes for fear of freezing, as you might at a regular swimming pool, we were able to simply wade right in. The sultry heat of the water rolled upon us, enveloped us, hugged us close like a soft blanket that immediately began to work its magic on washing our cares away. There could have been nothing better.

Moving in water is a weightless experience. For someone who carries an abundance of body fat around with her on a daily basis, feeling such weightlessness is an incredible sensation. In the soaking pool, I had the pleasure of floating effortlessly, with limbs as light as feathers and a torso that bore no weight, and I thought to myself: “This must be what skinny feels like.”

I do not long to be skinny. But I did like that feeling for a moment, to experience what another body experiences that is unlike my own. If a thin woman was given the opportunity to carry around 2-3 times her own body weight for an afternoon, would she appreciate the experience? Perhaps she’d at least gain a better understanding of the struggles we face. That is what I long for: a better understanding of the myriad of differences that we embody as individuals.

I also long for women to uplift other women and for body shame to be cleansed from our psyches. I long for deeper connections and more love and a higher purpose. Is that too much to ask for..?

I don’t care to be skinny. I don’t care to be fat. I just want to be me. EZ. Wiggles, jiggles and all. Here I am – no judgment.

“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” ~ George R.R. Martin

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You Are Not Fat / You Are Not Fingernails

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March 30, 2014 · 6:33 pm

Recognition and Reaffirmation

Yesterday, for the first time (that I am aware of) I ran into someone who recognized me as Enchanted Zaftig. Although I have many friends who know and support my EZ mission, I’ve never before been approached by someone whom I have never met, who only knows me as Enchanted Zaftig.

cartIt was in the frozen foods section of a grocery store that I never shop at. While navigating down the slightly cramped aisle, I approached a woman coming the opposite direction and tried my best to steer clear of her shopping cart with my own. As we passed, we made eye contact, and I smiled and said hello, because I like to smile and acknowledge people who take the time and have the confidence to meet my gaze. To my surprise, she stopped her cart and said my name. I turned to her, searching my memory for recognition, but her face was unfamiliar to me.

“I follow you on Facebook,” she said with a smile. “Your Enchanted Zaftig page.”

This news both took me by surprise and made me immensely happy. If a stranger in the frozen foods section of an obscure little grocery store recognizes me, then perhaps it’s safe to say that I’ve made some sort of impact with my Enchanted Zaftig project. No matter that I was in my weekend blue jeans and flip-flops at the time, with disheveled hair and no makeup and a cart full of random food items; I’ve always thought that if I could positively influence at least one person in this world, in this lifetime, then I’d feel accomplished in my ongoing efforts to inspire, spread knowledge and give encouragement to the women (and men) out there who feel oppressed and frustrated with societal body stigmas.

Thank-YouSo to Miss Dora in the Sav-A-Lot aisle… I say “Thank You” … for stopping your grocery cart, for taking a moment to say hello to me, and for reaffirming my Enchanted Zaftig mission. I strongly believe that one positive connection begets another, and that those connections will eventually make a measurable impact on this world, creating social change and fostering an environment of love and acceptance.

Viva la Zaftig!

 

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Body as Canvas

“His tongue is a paintbrush

      And I am the canvas

On which

      He fervently works

            To create a masterpiece.”

 

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© 2014 Enchanted Zaftig Poetry

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The Cardboard Courage Project

Jen McLellan, blogger, body-positive advocate and mentor to plus-size mothers-to-be, recently conducted the Cardboard Courage Project, encouraging women of all shapes and sizes to denounce distorted body standards by stripping down and holding up signs of empowerment.

“Recently women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages came forward to participate with the Cardboard Courage project. This project aims to redefine the beauty standards that the media keeps pushing upon us.  By stripping down, these women were empowered to stand courageously behind the messages they held up.  Messages of body love,  beauty, and strength.  This is Cardboard Courage…”

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Because of my own body-positive advocacy and continued determination to extinguish fat prejudice, I decided to join in on the project, emphasizing the Enchanted Zaftig motto, “Embrace Your Curves.” I am proud to be amongst such strong, beautiful women!

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If you’d like to participate in the next Cardboard Courage Project, sign up for Jen’s newsletter here.

And remember: Your curves do not hinder you ~ they enhance you!

 

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Forgiving the Monster in the Mirror

Yesterday, a good friend of mine posted on Facebook that a trip to the mall with her daughter had left her feeling old, outdated and fat. This friend is far from any of those adjectives. In fact, she’s beautiful, vivacious and perfectly shaped – not to mention she possesses an inner passion for life that touches all of those around her.

Her frustration with the shopping experience stemmed from several factors: 1.) She’d been shopping at a posh, overpriced mall in a pretentious part of town that caters to the wealthy and unrealistic. 2.) She’d been shopping with her 15-year-old daughter, who is tall, willowy and, as of yet, lacks the curves of a grown woman. And 3.) She’d been trying on clothes that should have fit her right, but, in her opinion, didn’t. “Victoria’s Secret makes nothing for a curvy body, at all.  I tried on a bunch of dresses, and if it fit me on the top, it was too big everywhere else. If the everywhere-else fit, it didn’t fit my top.”

A mother-daughter shopping adventure that should have been fun and fulfilling, ended with my friend crying in the parking lot. Even though she admitted later that she felt ridiculous about it, she also admitted that she’s in a place right now where she can’t quite embrace her curves and would like to get back to a body weight that she’s comfortable with. To most anyone, she would never be viewed as fat, not even for an instant; the curves she possesses are beautiful reminders that she has two lovely children and a blessed, abundant life for which she can feel proud of. But her self-doubt rightfully belongs to her. She is entitled to own that emotion, and I respect this and don’t wish to diminish or in any way invalidate her frustration.

warningWhat struck me the most after reading her Facebook post is that, personally, I don’t experience the shopping mall dilemma. A woman who has been thin most of her life and finds herself carrying a few extra pounds will undoubtedly feel disheartened by the fact that the clothing size which once fit her perfectly now doesn’t fit right, if at all. But a woman who has been overweight in varying degrees for the majority of her life doesn’t feel as disheartened, because she’s learned and accepted over time not to be delusional about the clothes shopping experience. She’s stopped searching for a particular fashion trend, style or size and is simply searching for whatever will “do the trick,” hoping it won’t result in the dreaded potato-sack. Sadly, when you have lowered expectations, disappointment doesn’t come around as often. But it does make finding that perfect dress, blouse or bra that much more rewarding.

With shops like Lane Bryant and online specialty stores offering a vast range of sizes, finding flattering jeans, cute dresses and bras with the right fit has become much more attainable. Yesterday, I stopped into a Lane Bryant location I had not been to before and was surprised to see an entirely new look and layout: fashion-worthy blouses and slacks on strategically-placed chrome racks; bras and panties in every cut and style displayed beneath decorative chandeliers. Gone was the department store look. In its stead was a specialty boutique that resembled Victoria’s Secret – only with more abundance, realism and accessibility. Although, in my opinion, Lane Bryant would be better off sticking to its own unique branding technique, offering us plump women a pleasant place to shop where we’re both welcomed and accepted is something to give accolades for.

Body Image ~ Lindsey de Ovies

Body Image ~ Lindsey de Ovies

So to my beautiful friend who faced the disappointing shopping experience yesterday: I have compassion for you. I have compassion for every woman who finds herself without a familiar size at her favorite clothing boutique. I understand the difficulty in accepting your reflection in the dressing room mirror, even though it’s never as monstrous and unforgiving as you give it credit for. But know that there’s hope for finding an equilibrium of peace with your body. Look beyond the norm… think outside the box… become creative in your shopping endeavors. Don’t put too much stock in the pretentious, high-couture malls, where reality is shamefully skewed.

Getting to that place of embracing your curves is a journey not likely to be accomplished overnight, and it may even be exhausting and seem implausible. But have faith – once you arrive at it, the liberation is tangible.

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